Objective: Behavioural and psychological symptoms in dementia (BPSD) are common and distressing to both patients and carers. The use of antipsychotics to treat BPSD is associated with a high burden of side-effects and alternative strategies are required. Aromatherapy is an option that has been recommended for use in dementia. We aimed to review the evidence supporting the use of aromatherapy in BPSD.
Methods: We searched Medline, Cochrane and EMBASE for randomised controlled trials of aromatherapy in patients with dementia.
Results: Eleven prospective randomised studies of aromatherapy in BPSD were identified. The aromatherapy oils tested, method of administration and outcome measures used varied widely across the studies. Most of the studies included very small numbers of patients and were designed in such a way that made interpretation of the findings difficult.
Conclusion: Data supporting the efficacy of aromatherapy are scarce; available studies reported positive and negative consequences for both people with dementia and their carers. The side-effect profile of commonly used oils is virtually unexplored. Although a potentially useful treatment for BPSD, the expectations of clinicians and patients with respect to the efficacy and tolerability of conventional medicines should equally apply to aromatherapy.